Throwing darts and wringing hands will not improve test scores of Maine children!

I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up with all the hand-wringing about test scores of children in our public schools. We are by and large a state that will not  do what is needed to increase academic achievement among all our students, so our test scores should be no surprise.

You can’t fly in the face of research, cutting programs that boost intellectual development, and those that encourage buy-in from students to schooling, and then complain when student scores drop on measures of learning. You can’t take away more and more physical activity and play, the natural elements of childhood, and expect good results.

Contemporary measures of achievement no longer favor rote memorization and simple multiple choice questions.  Those are relics of a by-gone age before computers entered our households and our schools en masse. The tests that provide the benchmarks we wring our hands over require increasingly sophisticated thinking skills. Many nations and districts understand this and provide the intellectual training needed for their students to do well.

If Governor LePage’s school report cards are useful at all, it is to show that in the majority of districts in our state Maine does not provide what students need to do well on the tests he values. The irony is that he is ultimately responsible for cuts to  programming that help degrade those very student scores.

I believe what LePage is missing is a recognition that you can’t just bang into people’s brains the answers to current standardized test questions. The tests require thinking, and careful thought is the outgrowth of a broad, rich, developmentally-appropriate curriculum taught by excellent teachers who are given what they need to do what they love as well as they possibly can.

If the teaching profession is treated without respect, and job satisfaction is so low that nationally the average longevity of teachers in the profession is only five years, of course our students will not thrive. Ask an educator and most will tell you it takes five years for a teacher to reach his or her stride.

Local school district leaders who are dissatisfied with test results in their schools need to first check in and see if  teachers in their district believe they are thriving as professionals. If they do not make the effort to open a conversation with their teachers there is a strong possibility they will miss the heart of the problem and student educational outcomes will continue to flat-line.student taking test

Throwing darts and wringing hands is clearly not working. It’s time to take off the gloves and begin the hard – but exciting – work of really improving student learning outcomes.






Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.